IMS condemns killing of journalist in Azerbaijan

International Media Support (IMS) resolutely condemns the murder of Rasim Aliyev, Azeri journalist, board member and employee of a leading media freedom organisation in Azerbaijan, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)

Mr. Aliyev, 30, died in a Baku hospital on 9 August after being severely beaten on 8 August by unknown assailants. The attack was supposedly a reaction to a dispute over a post he had written on Facebook post about a contentious football match, according to a statement made by his sister to the Turan news agency. He sustained serious injuries as a result of the attack and died several hours after in a Baku hospital.

Rasim Aliyev had faced many forms of pressure as a result of his journalistic and human rights work. Only last month in July, he received death threats over photos capturing police brutality and social discontent. On 25 July, Rasim Aliyev publicised the threats and screenshots of the threatening messages. On 26 July, Aliyev filed a police report, but no action was taken by Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies to protect his life.

Rasim Aliyev was a board member and employee of Azerbaijan’s leading media freedom organisation, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), and was elected as the organisation’s chairman in October 2014. In his work for the IRFS he was subjected him to many types of pressure from opponents of IRFS’ work for media freedom, In 2013 he was beaten by police in a 2013 incident that was captured in a widely circulated photograph.

Since 2007 Rasim Aliyev worked in different capacities for IRFS. He was the organisation’s leading expert in the election observation. He also worked as a court monitor, and a human rights researcher for IRFS.

Rasim worked as editor for IRFS’s Objective TV — an independent online news source dedicated to providing alternative human rights news from Azerbaijan, to counter the increasing government control of traditional news sources– from 2010 and until its forceful closure last summer.

Notably, the deadly attack against Rasim Aliyev came one year after IRFS was shut down without explanation by the regime.

In August 2014, authorities in Baku raided IRFS’ and Objective TV’s offices and confiscated equipment, documents and assets. Staff have been harassed and interrogated by Azerbaijan’s Public Prosecutor office. As a result, both IRFS and Objective TV have ceased their operations.

The climate of impunity – which allows attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan to remain unpunished – is contributing to the ongoing repression of free expression. Over the last decade there have been more than 300 attacks against journalists in Azerbaijan. Over the last 12 months, seven journalists and five human rights activists have been arrested and the list of cases of harassment of media and human rights specialists is long.

The authorities must end the unacceptable impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan. The untimely death of Rasim Aliyev is a stark reminder of Azerbaijan’s detrimental freedom of expression record and the need to create a mechanism for protecting journalists and human rights defenders. IMS is sincerely concerned and angered by the murder of Rasim Aliyev and we extend our condolences to Rasim Aliyev’s family and colleagues at this difficult time.

Background – attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan

A number of assaults and harrassments of journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan have taken place in the last decade, and have been met by impunity. Earlier in 2015, IRFS lawyer Gunay Ismayilova was subject to a physical assault. Although she reported the incident to the local police no one has been brought to justice for this attack.

In August 2014, fearing imminent arrest during the country’s crackdown on the independent voice, Emin Huseynov, the director and founder of IRFS, sought refuge at the Swiss Embassy where he had spent almost 12 months. On June 12, Huseynov was flown into exile in Switzerland.In an unprecedented move, and against its own Constitution, the Azerbaijani authorities stripped Huseynov of his Azerbaijani citizenship. Huseynov has become a stateless person, and is currently seeking political asylum in Switzerland.

Prominent Azerbaijani journalist and writer Rafiq Tagi died in Baku on 23 November 2011 from the injuries he sustained during a brutal knife attack four days earlier. Rafiq’s death on 23 November – the world’s first International Day to End Impunity– is a chilling reminder of the dangers faced by journalists in Azerbaijan.

In August 2009, editor-in-chief of the minority Talysh language newspaper Tolishi Sedo and Talysh cultural activist Novruzali Mammadov died in custody while serving a 10-­year prison sentence on charges of high treason. Prior to his death, Mammadov had reported a number of serious health issues, some of which were likely exacerbated during a 15-day period when prison officials kept him in solitary confinement, deprived him of bedding and warm clothes.

In March 2005, Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered in an attack that appeared to be a contract killing. After receiving a number of death threats, he was gunned down in the stairwell of his apartment building in Baku, where he died on the spot. Renowned for his groundbreaking reporting, an outspoken critic of the current regime, Elmar Huseynov set a standard of investigative journalism and personal courage in Azerbaijan and internationally. Despite continued calls for the Azerbaijani authorities to find the perpetrators involved, the case remains unsolved.  Since Huseynov’s death, there have been more than 300 attacks against journalists in Azerbaijan.